Austin City Council spends about $14M in midyear budget amendments

Austin City Council allocated about $14 million through midyear budget amendments Feb. 12 and put about half a million dollars aside for property tax relief or other contingencies in 2014.

The council started with about $12.1 million in one-time expenditure funding and about $2.2 million in recurring expenditure funding. City staff found the funding through various sources, including 2012 general fund surplus, improved sales tax projection and contractual obligations, and the critical one-time fund.

Three items, including cemetery maintenance and operations, civil service system implementation and funds for the establishment of council districts were approved under a separate motion for a total amount of about $600,000 in one-time funds and about $300,000 in recurring expenditures because these items are mandated by law.

Other projects funded by the council included affordable housing for $10 million in one-time expenditures, the 24-hour hike and bike trail pilot for $350,000 in one-time expenditures, wildfire fuel mitigation for about $236,000 in one-time expenditures and about $845,000 in recurring expenditures, and Child Inc. summer school programs for about $557,000 in one-time expenditures.

Near the end of the process, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole moved to allocate the remaining $497,000 of combined one-time and recurring funding for 2014 property tax relief or other contingencies.

"Mayor, I am highly disappointed that we have taken and spent $14 million and have not reserved any sums of money for property tax relief or any other contingencies," Cole said before making a motion to save the remaining funds.

Councilman Bill Spelman said there's a strong possibility that not all the money allocated in the mid-year budget amendments will be spent, and some of that money could go back into the general fund.

"Although that looks like a very small percentage of the amount of money we started with, it is likely to grow over the next few months," he said.

Spelman specifically mentioned the low likelihood of having two tax credit programs under affordable housing funding and the possibility that Austin Playhouse would not be able to raise enough money to continue its projects.

At the end of the amendment discussion, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he was voting against the amendments because the additional expenditures would make creating the next budget more difficult.

"All of these are good projects and deserve attention and perhaps even deserve funding," he said. "But I believe we need, at this point in time, to preserve the maximum amount of money that we can to address problems in the next fiscal year. A lot of these items are going to have an impact on our next budget. This is my official prediction, this is going to be the year when we're going to be struggling to find the funds we need for all the basic services that we have to do every year."

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